Mine Deaths Blamed on Company Run by Major GOP Contributor

By Asa Eslocker

Nov 9, 2006 9:57am

West Virginia state mining officials concluded Thursday that a fatal mine accident in January could have been prevented, placing blame on a huge coal company run by one of the country’s biggest Republican donors, Don Blankenship. Blankenship is chairman, CEO and president of the Massey Energy Company of Richmond, Va. He has spent millions of dollars to promote Republican candidates and causes in this year’s election. The report on the fatal mine accident cites "168 notices of violations" in Massey Energy’s Aracoma Mine that led to the deaths of two miners, according to the investigation issued by the West Virginia Office of Miner’s Health, Safety and Training. THE BLOTTER RECOMMENDS RNC Accepts Money From Army Porn Movie Distributor Lobster With Kerry: $25,000. Golf With Chambliss: $15,000. Access to Congress: Priceless. Click Here to Check Out More of the Brian Ross Page The scathing report came just days before Tuesday’s election, in which Blankenship has played a major role. In September and October alone, Blankenship has spent $2,041,510 of his own money to place television commercials, billboards and newspaper advertisements on behalf of Republican candidates in West Virginia, according to state election records reviewed by ABC News. "Blankenship has a company that has killed people, hurts people and is using political power to try to line up friendly judges and a friendly legislature," says Norm Steenstra, the executive director of the Mountain State Education and Research Foundation, a non-profit group that advocates campaign reform measures. Blankenship’s extraordinarily large expenditures are legal under West Virginia and federal election laws because the money is steered through a non-profit group he established, "And for the Sake of the Kids." Blankenship has backed more than 40 candidates in this year’s election, almost all of whom are considered to be pro-business and in favor of revamping what is considered the state’s "plantiff friendly" environment. Critics allege that Blankenship’s huge campaign expenditures began only after Massey Energy lost a $50 million jury verdict, which the company is appealing. His critics call it the "Blankenship Factor." "Blankenship’s got an agenda, and then he wraps himself in the mantle of ‘For The Sake Of The Kids,’" says Steenstra. "There’s never been a more obvious and more disgusting pollution of the political process in West Virginia," says  Steenstra. Thursday’s state mine safety report underscores warnings that Massey employees were aware of dangers, including a fire sparked by a malfunctioning conveyor belt that consumed the mine in thick black smoke and carbon monoxide. The report concluded the miners died of asphyxiation. Inoperable fire hoses and sprinkler systems, reverse ventilation, a broken fire alarm and inaccurate mine maps given to rescuers were also cited as causes of the miners’ deaths. See various slides from the report: slide A, slide B, slide C, slide D and slide E.
"The mine was set up to be a death trap," says Cecil Roberts, the President of the United Mine Workers of America.  "It should be obvious that Massey knew it and had they taken the action to protect the miners and comply with the law we wouldn’t have had these two fatalities," Roberts told ABC News. In a statement issued to ABC News, Massey Energy acknowledged that its investigation indicates various "conditions that did not meet Massey Energy standards." Repeated requests to speak with Blankenship were never answered by Massey Energy spokesman
Jeff Gillenwater.

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